Thursday, February 28, 2008

Music Man

Fellow I take out to dinner every couple of weeks. I’ll call him Jack. He and I go out last night. Usual chit chat. This and that. How he’s the last one left except for his sister. His sister out in a small town in one of the plains states. Husband dead. Ran a grain elevator.

And also left is his son, out in a small town in another plains state. Handy man. Vietnam vet. Came back changed. Permanently changed. Like the son he knew was replaced. Son’s wife crippled up with arthritis. So he’s plenty occupied. Doesn’t get in much to see old Jack. But Jack doesn’t mind.

Jack’s pushing 80. Wife. I’ll call her Ethel. She died over a year ago now. She died slowly over a period of years. Jack had to nurse her the last three. Getting up four and five times a night with her. Constant care. She died at home.

She loved him. He loved her. The word doted comes to mind. Doting. I was with them on and off over a period of six, eight months. Visiting. Helping sometimes. Not a cross word. Not a complaint. Not a hint of some underlying struggle, some beneath the surface pulling and hauling, like you find with ninety-nine out of a hundred couples. Each told me (when the other wasn’t around) how lovely the other was through all the illness and difficulty. Through all their lives together. Through and through.

When she died, he thought he was going crazy. Thought they’d have to put him away. Seeing things. Hearing things. The full shebang.

But then after a few months of that, he settled down. Got control again. Something like his own self again. But not right. Not right at all. Just not loony any more.

It throws a man, Bill, he says. It’s like a part of you has been removed. A large part. And it won’t heal. It won’t grow over. Just the feeling of a hole.

I picture the earth. A few continents removed. Large raw holes where the continents used to be. The oceans all around.

And his severely diabetic sister has her friends. Doesn’t want to move in with him. And of course he doesn’t want to move out there with her. He has his life here and his friends also.

To make ends meet, he plays organ at a church on Sundays and special events. And he runs a vacuum cleaner at an apartment building downtown. Apartment building full of old people. Ailing people. Poor people. Drunks. Drug users. Stays active cleaning up their mess.

He doesn’t know what he’s still alive for sometimes. He says. He doesn’t know what he’s still doing walking around above ground.

But what he will admit is that he has a great time mostly on the organ. He feels God in the music. God’s presence there. Even with the 425 pound priest spewing his nonsense, officiating. Even with the oddball people and the things they sometimes say and do in church.

So there’s some comfort in that, is what he says. Some comfort in the music and the way it brings all the weird, defective people together in a hymn. In praise. In the making of a joyful noise, no matter how discordant and dissonant the sound will sometimes be in their singing underneath.

The Bible says a joyful noise, and by God that’s what I make. He says. Laughing.

An organist all his life. From the time he was a boy. Feels like it’s his life’s calling. Like this is what God wanted from him. And wants from him still. What he has for him to do.

Some of his best days were in Germany. When he was stationed there in the fifties. The organs over there, Bill. Here. Look at these pictures. Some of the largest and best organs in the world. And I played them. Played them to my heart’s content.

And he went to school with Johnny Carson. Same classes, sometimes. And they were on radio together. Produced a radio show together for awhile. The college radio station. Once, their professor told Johnny he wouldn’t amount to anything with his cutup manner. He must be serious if he intends to amount to anything in this life, the professor said. And sober, too. Or something like that.

And he laughs. He laughs and laughs. At what a fool that professor was.

And he remembers one of his teachers in high school telling him he wouldn’t amount to anything as an organist. He had no talent. None whatsoever. And here he’s been making a living at teaching organ and playing organ on and off all his life. That showed her. That certainly would have shown her. If she wasn’t dead. And then he laughs some more.

Then last night he tells me about a blind woman. Been living down at the building he cleans. Years and years. But now she can’t do for herself anymore. And now she’s being moved into a nursing home. And she can’t take her things with her.

Her furniture and such. And she learns of a poor woman moving in. Moving into the building as she’s moving out. A poor woman with nothing. And so the blind woman gives her the entire apartment. Her entire lifetime of stuff, apart from a few things. Clothes. Mementos. Just gives it all away, he says. Astonished look on his face. To the poor woman moving in.

So as I say. Last night, we go out to dinner. We both have burgers. Two mystic believer priests appreciating their burgers. Traveling through the universe. Conversing about God and life. Looking around for whatever’s next. To see. Hear. Say. Or do.

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